ACCRA, Ghana – Excited school children in Ghana peered skyward and hundreds of people streamed to an ancient Greek temple in Turkey for a view Wednesday of the first total eclipse in years, a solar show sweeping northeast from Brazil to Mongolia.
Throngs milled on a beach in Ghana, sharing protective eyewear to look as the moon moved into position between the earth and the sun. From Ghana to Libya and Syria, schools closed and streets emptied.
The last such eclipse in November 2003 was best viewed from Antarctica, said Alex Young, a NASA scientist involved in solar research.
Wednesday's eclipse will block the sun in highly populated areas, including West Africa, where governments scrambled to educate people about the dangers of looking at the eclipse without proper eye protection.
In Turkey's Mediterranean town of Side, hundreds of people streamed down a main street, some carrying tripods, to an ancient Greek temple dedicated to Apollo to view the eclipse, as market sellers hawked T-shirts and protective glasses.
Joaquim Boix traveled from Barcelona, Spain, to view the eclipse. He said he became addicted to eclipses after seeing one in Germany.
"It's fantastic," Boix said. "It's the color, the metallic blue-green color on the skin of the people. The sky with the stars in the background. Usually you watch the stars in a black background... The background is blue. It's a special feeling."
In Togo, authorities imported hundreds of thousands of pairs of special glasses that consumers cleared rapidly from shelves in the capital, Lome. But villagers in the interior won't have access to the eyewear and officials called on them to stay home.
"Please, do not go out and keep your children indoors on solar eclipse day," Togo's minister for health said in a message broadcast on state TV.
Day will turn to night in the eclipse's route, and a corona — the usually invisible extended atmosphere of the sun — will glow around the edges of the moon as it comes between the earth and the sun.
"Imagine if your hair was to stand up from static electricity, that's kind of what the corona looks like all around the sun," NASA's Young said. But the corona's light can burn eyes.
In Ghana, where the effect will be particularly visible, people were spent about $1 for "solar shades" — paper-rimmed glasses with dark plastic lenses that resemble eyewear used for 3-D movies.
NASA said Turkey will be the best spot to view the eclipse, and tens of thousands of tourists were expected along the Turkish Mediterranean coast.
An ancient Roman theater in Side, astronomers and scientists from NASA and the San Francisco-based Exploratorium science museum made last-minute preparations for a live broadcast.
"It's one of those experiences that makes you feel like you're part of the larger universe," said NASA astronomer Janet Luhman.
The moon is expected to first begin blocking out the sun in the morning in Brazil before the path of greatest blockage migrates to Africa, then on to Turkey and up into Mongolia, where it will fade out with the sunset.
Superstition will follow around the world, as it has for generations.
One Indian paper advised pregnant women not to go outside during the eclipse to avoid having a blind baby or one with a cleft lip. Food cooked before the eclipse should be thrown out afterward because it will be impure and those who are holding a knife or ax during the eclipse will cut themselves, the Hindustan Times added.
The moon's voyage across the sun will last between five and 10 minutes, Young said, though the sun will only be completely blackened for a few seconds. That is longer than most eclipses, which only last a minute or two, according to a NASA statement.
Total eclipses are rare because they require the tilted orbits of the sun, moon and earth to line up exactly so that the moon obscures the sun completely. The next total eclipse will occur in 2008.